Gaining a Clear Perspective

Professors, students, and local teens investigate algae problem

By Chris Baker '07

A Nazareth College summer research project enabled professors, college students, and high school students to use Peckham Hall's sophisticated labs to test for causes and possible solutions to the pervasive algae problem in Lake Ontario. The interdisciplinary project gave Nazareth biology major Jacob Murphy '18 and biochemistry major Shane Fuentes '18 the chance to mentor the area high school students under the direction of Nazareth faculty members Padmini Das, Ph.D., assistant biology professor, and David Giacherio, Ph.D., visiting assistant chemistry professor.

This was the second summer that Fuentes was involved. "My two years as a mentor have allowed me to teach what I have learned from my own research experience at Naz to some of the community's young and brilliant minds," he said.

The teen participants also benefited. "It's a lot different than school where you get a general understanding of the subject," said Audrey Vinton, a Brighton High School student. "Here, they expect us to already know our stuff, be able to take in new information, and apply it immediately."

Fresh Water

    The research team gathered weekly water and algae samples from several locations along the Genesee River Watershed to explore how the waterway and its tributaries are influencing the influx of algae in Lake Ontario.

    "It was challenging, but the experience and knowledge I gained were worth it," said Juan Justiniano of Rochester, a student at Rochester Academy Charter School who plans to study forensics. "The professors and mentors treated us like family and expected us to be professionals."

    The team conducted sophisticated lab analysis using equipment that, according to Das, even most college students do not get to handle until graduate school. This rare experience gave teens a taste of many fields of scientific study.

    "Research is not confined to any one discipline," said Das. "This is a multi-disciplinary project merging biology, chemistry, and environmental chemistry — and these students are solving an environmental problem in their own community."

    "The algae problem should matter to everyone, because it affects all of us," said Caroline Schmitz, a high school student from Fairport. The project helped her gauge her level of knowledge and learn to work as a team: "We really had to learn to work together, because a lot of us come from different backgrounds and have different strengths in science."

    Aditya Tangirala, a high school student from Brighton, agreed. "It was a very collaborative environment. You learn to not be afraid to ask questions and to rely on people around you."

    Environmental Action

    "These students won't ever see water the same way again."

    — Padmini Das, Ph.D., assistant biology professor